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Why Transparency Supports Healthy Organizational Culture

transparency, organizational culture, small to mid-sized business, business owner, CEOSome of you may know that I host the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz every Friday (you can read about our more recent conversations here) and often there are interesting lessons or insights that come from the live chat. As someone who coaches business owners and executives to become better leaders, a healthy organizational culture is often a topic or very near the surface.

But what is organizational culture?

For the small to mid-sized companies I work with, culture is often the expression of the business leader. Since small to mid-sized companies are more compact and connected than larger corporations,  it is easier for the business owner/ CEO to express to everyone how he/she wants things to be and, in growth organizations, to become. That means values and behaviours are obvious and the meanings and purposes of these values and behaviours is idiosyncratic to that company. As an example, one of my clients makes it a point to be available for face to face conversations, ask questions  and share a lunch with everyone once a month. Another client in a bigger organization believes in hiring smart people  and he lets them know his expectations and then gets out of the way for the day-to-day execution of these expectations. He is doing what he is good at and, consequently, so are his employees.

Transparency and culture

You may have heard a lot of discussion about transparency in various places. According to the Business Dictionary, transparency is

“Lack of hidden agendas and conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation and collective decision-making. [Also as definition] Minimum degree of disclosure to which agreements, dealings, practices, and transactions are open to all for verificaton.”

One would think that smaller organizations would have less machinations and hidden agendas than their larger counterparts but politics are everywhere.

What could possibly go wrong?

Most small companies operate in a clear and legal manner. But there can be some pitfalls or unforeseen consequences when corporate culture stems from the leader as alleged actions by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his administration are being reported. Now the temptation is to say that politicians are corrupt anyway but I remember working for a doctor who would lose his temper in such a dramatic fashion and belittle others that people were literally afraid to speak up in meetings. Consequently, this small organization had high turnover, backbiting amongst colleagues and absolutely no faith that your immediate boss would ever back you if you needed it.

But there are other things to consider:

  • Lack of common definition of privacy and discretion: (thank you to Lois Martin for highlighting this) With multiple generations in the workplace, privacy and discretion have morphed over time and it is up to the leader(s) to clearly state what clients and the public can know about the company. This can be also seen as professionalism.
  • We live and work online: There are risks and responsibilities as this McKinsey report discusses. Cybersecurity is an issue for all businesses, regardless of size.
  • People may bring a negative perspective from their previous employer: As you grow, you hire new people and they bring all of their experiences, good and bad, with them. Their stories may color how they share information, show intiative or handle disappointment in your organization.
  • Euphemisms: Transparency depends on people saying what they mean. If you are “demising” jobs, let people know to expect their job may be eliminated.
  • Consistent ethical code: Transparency is really an encapsulation of certain values — respect, integrity, honesty — and if you are cutting corners, your employees will cut corners and this, ultimately,  affects attracting and retaining your customers

When you stop to think about it, it brings up all sorts of questions about organizational culture, individual behaviour choices and the validity of an ethical professional code.

What could go right?

Of course, there is always another side. Part of the most recent discussion about transparency are the advantages it gives to businesses. Small to mid-sized businesses may have been onto this for some time. Quite often you know your customers by name and understand how important that “know, trust and like” factor can be.

  •  Differentiation is clear: While you have much in common with your competitors regarding customer service or even type of product or service you offer, your words and actions, source of materials, vendors and clear wording on policies (without the super fine print) and procedures invites trust.
  • Happier employees: If you have ever worked for a boss who was tough and fair, you worked for a leader who was transparent in his/her expectations.  A 2013 TINYpulse employee satisfaction survey reported that transparent managers had a “correlation coefficient 0.94 with employee happiness.” Good management fosters better morale and productivity.
  • More accurate information about what customers like/dislike: Open, two-way communication with your customers enables better data gathering on what your customers buy from you and what sorts of improvements are most desired.
  • Clear internal communications: When the business owner/CEO takes the time to listen and interact, it becomes clear that the whole organization is supposed to listen and interact.
  • Supports accountability: When the decision-making process engages both the leaders and those assigned to executing the business goals, it is easier to know why a goal was chosen, who will do the work and when it is scheduled to be completed.

Transparency helps you develop a healthier organizational culture

It does take some work and maybe even retraining on your part to become more transparent. On the  other hand, having the ability to know who works for and with you simply provides an excellent foundation for transparency. On that you can build out how the values of honesty, respect, integrity and professionalism will be expressed in your culture.

What reasons do  you believe that transparency is important in a small to mid-sized business?

When could transparency harm your small to mid-sized business?

How much transparency is needed to develop a healthy organizational culture?

 

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CEO Mindset: Confidence When Your Business Is Struggling

CEO Mindset, confidence, business owner, business executive, turnaroundWhen I wrote the post “Confidence- An Often Overlooked Business Tool,” I received some great feedback. However, one theme that came up in conversations with Irish business owners as well as other business owners is the importance of having a realistic perspective. Business owners and executives must be truth-tellers first to themselves and then to the stakeholders.

Call it what it is…a turnaround

One of my clients is in the midst of a turnaround. His business is seriously struggling and there are a number of larger economic factors which are working against him plus some mis-steps made by himself and his staff. To his credit, he recognizes that staying focused on the here-and-now brings him one step closer to getting beyond this mess. He has moments when he feels doubt about getting through.

Turbulence and doubt

These are the roughest times for any business owner or high-level executive. It is not uncommon for a business owner to hide in his/her office and worry. Time seems to change by speeding up or slowing. You watch the business’ finances dwindle at an alarming rate and may have creditors or the bank calling to discuss how you’re going to pay them back. This is a scary and turbulent time.

Try a little tenderness

There is a surprising first step that must be taken. Apparently Otis Redding was onto something here. Treat yourself with compassion. Odds are, you didn’t try to get into this mess. In a 2012 study about self-compassion, researchers discovered that treating yourself with kindness and mercy produces four effects:

  • see the possibilities for change and making amends
  • increase the desire to make the changes
  • take steps to correct the situation or follow through on planned action
  • compare self with those doing better as if to use them as role models

Instead of berating yourself, acknowledge that there has been a failure. This allows you to treat yourself with compassion and open your mind up to find possibilities and cope with the consequences. Consistent with Carol Dweck’s work on the fixed mindset and the growth mindset, it is apparent that believing you can find a solution or learn a way to manage a problem is much more empowering. This is true even when you are faced with noxious choices.

Paradoxical thinking

This type of thinking is part of the growth mindset. Paradoxical thinking is the ability to hold contradictory concepts at the same time. You can tell yourself the truth that things are dire. However, for this to be truly paradoxical, the business owner (or executive) must also hold the concept that there may be a way out. Bear in mind that this is not arrogance or willful blindness. Confidence requires self-belief, humility and open mindedness if it is to be any use to you.

Taking action supports the feeling of “I can” and fosters confidence

Finding confidence when your business is struggling takes compassion, paradoxical thinking and an growth mindset. This is not necessarily an easy process but it is a necessary one.  Anyone leading a business is used to taking action and producing results.

To rebuild your confidence, start with basic questions:

  • What does the business do well?
  • What does the business owner/ executive do well?
  • What resources are available?

Taking the answers to these questions and developing a plan of action means

  • re-establishing yourself as the leader of your organization
  • communicating clearly to and with your staff
  • identifying what needs to be addressed first
  • re-connecting with customers
  • following up with leads and prospects
  • providing an optimistic, strong and thoughtful perspective

Possibly the greatest test of your career

Looking back isn’t productive. Regret eats away at your confidence. You are in this situation now and it needs to be rectified. There aren’t even guarantees that you will lead the company to an ideal result.

Even so, do:

  • Treat yourself with compassion
  • Acknowledge that this is a terrible situation and there is a solution or a way to manage the turbulence
  • Identify what is still working, your leadership skills and available resources
  • Develop a written plan and take action

Finding your confidence while your business struggles is a challenge. There are plenty of reminders of problems. But for your company to exit the situation with any degree of grace, you have to believe you can find a way out and get things moving in the right direction again.

Confidence enables finding the possible.

About the author:  I’m Elli St.George Godfrey, executive coach and trainer who guides established small to mid-sized business owners and executives in the US, Ireland and Northern Ireland to be comfortable in their own skin. Change can be growing your business, expanding in the US or adapting to a new leadership roles. Visit my Services page to see how we can work together or schedule your complimentary coaching session here.

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What Stressor Should You Tolerate In Your Small Business?

how tolerating stress can hurt your small business*Mary, a small business owner, is experiencing some difficulty fitting into her changing role in her small business. Over the years, she has been largely responsible for the actual work of her business. She often kept her strategic plan in her head and followed her gut instinct when opportunities came along. And it worked. The business has grown and is stable. Recently, she has been noticing a restless feeling; as if it is time to do something new. Mary is quite clear that she has no intention of closing her current business. She envisions her current business becoming so much more. Mary recognizes that the business is ready for growth and knows she wants the role of  leader; even calling herself CEO. She feels eager and apprehensive about making the necessary decisions that will move her business forward.

What’s behind her uncertainty? Click here to read more »

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Managing the Business Owner: Productivity Is About Alignment?

Productivity seems to be a hot topic lately. And yes, I’m adding to it too. But…why is it so stinking hard to stay productive?!

Productivity depends on habits, attitudes and reinforcement. Alignment of habits, attitudes and reinforcement

Habits

Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But then, we work on new habits fairly often. How many of us are working on a new exercise program? Getting up in the morning and getting out for a walk or a run? That’s a new habit, well, actually a few new habits. Actually, it’s kind of cool how we develop new habits!

Let’s take a  little jaunt into neuroscience first. Our brains have the capacity to build new networks all the time. A habit is simply a learned behavior. So, as you do the new thing, you learn the behavior. Now, as you repeat the behavior, you make the neural pathway stronger. The other cool part of this is that when you are doing the new behavior, you reduce the frequency of the old habit and weaken that neural pathway.

Tony Schwartz has a good point. Rituals are  a good way to make learning new habits easier. They  have the benefit of combining rules and behavior in a prescribed manner. By following the same routine on a regular basis, say you choose to set an alarm for 2o minutes for uninterrupted work. This is a ritual. What routine could you turn into a ritual that would support your productivity?

Attitudes

This is stating the obvious but how we think and feel does have a huge impact on our motivation. According to Deborah Rinner, one act of incivility can have harmful effects on productivity. It doesn’t even have to be about the actual task you’re trying to complete.

And it’s not just incivility. It can also be exposed to negativity. It’s a tough time to be leading and managing a small business. If you focus on the bad news or spend time with the Doom and Gloom crowd, it’s easier to start telling yourself stories of how tough it is. It can creep up when you’re tired or under additional stress. It’s easy to start using coping strategies such as defense mechanisms like “all or nothing thinking” or projection or many of the other common ones.

So, the negative stories you tell yourself or just the unpleasantness of someone acting rudely towards you affects your attitudes. It becomes a loop which takes you away from your productivity.

Reinforcement

Who cares if you get your work done? Seriously. Is it your customers? Your employees? Your peers?

Even the most internally driven person needs a little sugar. Some kind of recognition that you truly are talented and valuable. It can be lonely running your small buisness. Carrying the weight around without comrades is wearying. That’s why mastermind groups, mentors, coaches, friends, family and/or a trusted peer is essential to your productivity. When you’re with people who know what you’re experiencing, it reduces feelings of isolation, anxiety and frustration. These are the feelings that eat away at your energy that could be spent on your work.

It also helps when you can see that what you’re doing is creating results. I recently was advised to write down everything I had been doing with my marketing and the results. I was totally amazed at how much I had done in just a few weeks. What would you see? How might that reinforce your actions?

Alignment of habits, attitudes and reinforcement is key to your productivity.

So much can happen in a day, a week or a month to get us on or off track. You hold so much responsibility in leading, managing and implementing the mission and work of your small business. When you are fully aligned, your performance is improved.  Building a system that makes sense to you is an important way to create alignment.

What surprises you about productivity?

What do you believe a small business owner needs the most to be productive?

 

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Are You a Chieftain or a Celebrity?

Just this month, I joined Valeria Maltoni (@ConversationAge) on Twitter as a co-host for the weekly hashtag chat #Kaizenblog. The focus of the conversation is the big picture of your business and how you strategize and think about it in a more global manner. We meet every Friday at 12pm ET/5pm GMT to discuss topics ranging from designing business plans to evaluating ideas that you want to take to market.

The word, kaizen, is Japanese and is a process in which one seeks continuous improvement in all aspects of one’s life.  Check out this post by Valeria which explains it quite well here.

Which leads us to this week’s topic:

Is the difference between tribes or fans important to your business?

To be honest, I don’t have an answer so here are some thoughts to begin the conversation for this week’s chat on #Kaizenblog.

Seth Godin put this idea into play for most of us. Mainly marketing professionals were talking about this first but Seth Godin expanded the  idea of tribes into a larger conversation with his book, Tribes. He defines a tribe as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.” He goes on to challenge all of us to be a leader of some kind. We can lead our tribes alone or as co-leaders. He is really calling us all out to lead a movement.

But I run a business, I’m not an activist!  Oh really?! If you are an entrepreneur, you are more activist than you could imagine! Entrepreneurs are all about changing the world. Take a moment and think what you wrote in your executive summary. I’ve worked with business owners who are on fire about keeping your electronic data secure, teaching young children to love learning, and to support you communicating with others on the Internet. As I write this, I think of current and past clients who are game changers for their industries. Everything they do, everything they create has to be tied back to their value system and executive summary because it is going to change how we know the world.

But are you creating a tribe or a group of fans? Valeria Maltoni at Conversation Agent has a great post of how Ducati has created a tribe that centers around its motorbikes. It made a huge difference when the company was struggling for survival. But what is your story? Who are your evangelists?

If you are a chieftain, what does your tribe look like? Maybe it’s really about being part bard as well. You tell and sing the story of your Big Idea and inspire others to make it part of their lifestyle. You engage in conversation with these aficionados and discover you are inspired as well. The story deepens and has less and less to do with you. It is more about the glue your business is providing with your products and services. The people in the conversation talk with you and, just as importantly, with each other.

What if you are a celebrity? Perhaps this is about personality (not necessarily your personality, remember your business is its own entity) and less about connecting people to one another. There is still immense value in your products or services but it’s handled differently. People become fans because they love what you provide. Inspiration can still happen but it seems more by example than by mutual discovery.

Does it really matter to your business if you have a tribe or fans?

Do you believe there is a difference?

Join us for this conversation on Friday, April 23rd at 12pm ET/5 pm GMT on Twitter by using the hashtag #Kaizenblog. It might be easier to sign into the conversation by using Tweetchat or Tweetgrid. Add your thoughts to the conversation!

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Is Community Involvement Good For Your Business?

Conventional wisdom says, “definitely, yes” because it will help build your business. But with any kind of conventional wisdom, it is important to stop and think about what community involvement means to you. Like any other activity your business engages in, some strategic thinking will help in the long run.

Just for a start, do you want to get involved? When running a small business, there are so many demands on our time, money, even on ourselves. It is easy to feel drained and overwhelmed. Getting involved as a business person is different than getting involved as an ordinary citizen. Your actions and opinions are under a different lens so there are times when you have to be conscious of your behavior.

So how do you want to get involved? With so many of us engaging in both social networking and in-person networking, our communities can be local, national, international, or virtual.  Most of the entrepreneurs I coach have a sense of mission and want to create a values-based business. They often speak of what they will do someday when they are “big enough.” The thing is what if you keep changing the definition of what “big enough” looks like? Participation can be small as in a one-off donation or it can be that you take on a integral role in the organization.

You could get involved at the group level.  At a recent chapter event for the National Association of Women Business Owners, the Big Sister Organization received a donation. Every year, the chapter president chooses a charity to benefit and the chapter raises money through raffle prizes at each event. Just by buying one raffle ticket, business owners were able to assist an organization that makes a difference in the community.

You could get involved at your individual level. Volunteer for an organization, become a board member, or even start an organization. For example, Danny Brown (@dannybrown) started 12 for 12k with the goal to raise $12,000 each month for 12 charities. Ellie Anbinder started  Art beCAUSE to fund research dedicated to eradicating the environmental causes of breast cancer. Each year, her organization is able to “Seed the Scientist” with money that furthers our understanding of how substances in our environment can affect women’s (and men’s) breast health. While you do not have to start your own foundation, getting involved in something you believe in is crucial. What changes do you want to make in your community? As a volunteer board member of NAWBO Boston, I want women business owners to build successful, powerful businesses. You define your community. Do you want to reduce hunger? Unemployment? Improve literacy? Keep kids out of trouble?

So, now we come to What’s In It For My Business? Determining the kind of impact your community involvement you desire for your business is a key piece. Many of us have seen signs at Little League games for local retailers and business owners. For them, their name becomes easy to remember and you are more likely to go to that local pizza shop, that lawyer, or that hardware store. Others are looking to demonstrate how socially responsible they are so you make a value-based decision to buy their product or service. Another benefit to community involvement is accessibility to other business owners and customers/clients who are more likely to naturally do business with you.

I asked Danny Brown to explain what impact 12 for 12k has had on his business.  He explained that, “It’s had a wonderful two-fold effect. It’s put me in touch with other business owners of the same mindset that wish to collaborate on projects; and it’s made companies aware that social equity can also equal profits. I’ve had seven new clients take me onboard to help them with both cause marketing and general community building work. So I think social equity is definitely a great business tool, as long as it’s genuine in its use.”

What are your motivations? This last question completes your strategic thinking about why you would engage in community involvement. If the value of service is an important one to you, donating your time, talent, or treasure in some form becomes just part of who you are. But as you cannot give to everyone and there are problems in the world that you want to stop, it is necessary to consider why you want to get involved as a business owner/entrepreneur versus a private person. Expectations, desire for power, desire for a legacy, or even your spiritual practice play into your decisions. In the end, know why you want to get involved and know how deeply you want to get involved.

Some other sites that focus entirely on this topic are:

www.selfishgiving.com

www.businessgivingstrategies.com

There are some excellent discussions on philosophies of community involvement as well as information on what different roles are available.

So, what do you have to say about community involvement?

Do you know why it would be good/bad for your business What are your expectations?

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Are you WYSIWYG?

WYSIWYG is one of those terms thatWindow and chair made me chuckle when I first heard it. It seemed cute. Actually, it is pretty clever when you realize that it refers to “word processing or desktop publishing in which the screen prints text exactly as it will be printed.” (according to Answers.com) The term stuck with me as a computer thing for quite some time but recently it took on another dimension. Two things started a thought process. On Twitter, there have been numerous conversations about transparency. Some of the questions center on what is transparency, how much is necessary, and how to use it when marketing. To add more depth, Chris Brogan, a social media marketing expert and president of New Marketing Labs, (www.chrisbrogan.com) posted “Cafe Shaped Conversations.” The blog post centered on the importance of the human touch when conducting business. This post follows a consistent theme that Brogan writes about how being yourself as an effective business tool. This is illustrated by Carol Jordan of You Are Here Books. His point is to connect with people through social media the way you would connect in-person in a focused and genuine manner. Many of us have rules about how a business person should look or act. Even if you have been in business in one capacity or another, you may have set up some rules or guidelines which begin something like, “people in my position must…” Fill in the blank. Now, what would happen if you broke this rule? Would you appear more genuine, more at ease? Would your business development be less strenuous and less stressful? Is it okay to be “what you see is what you get?” As I look back at the early days of my business, I had rules about what I thought a business owner should be like. Certainly, I was anxious to appear competent, contained, and serious.While this is not the first business I have started, it is the business that best suits me and my talents. Frankly, I did not trust my abilities or my knowledge base. I tried to cram myself into an elevator pitch. I began to feel like I was wearing someone else’s clothes. Looking at yourself, how would you describe your style? Your business? Being comfortable in one’s skin exudes confidence that we are okay no matter if we are succeeding or failing. It enables us to be authentic and connect with people. We have heard sales trainers and coaches talk about the “know, like, and trust” factor in converting prospects into sales. Instead of a transactional process, what would make doing business more about being yourself and acknowledging the person who wants your products and services? By using “what you see is what you get,” you cut out silly rules that cramp your natural abilities and personality. What makes you comfortable in your own skin? It is a common fear that someone will find out you are a fraud. However, this is usually an unfounded fear held by extremely competent, intelligent, and ethical people. As entrepreneurs, we continuously push ourselves out of our circle of comfort. Remembering that we come with great abilities and a record of success enables us to settle into our authenticity. Check your rules. Are they supporting you or thwarting you? Get rid of anything that interferes with your natural connection with people. Dare to be WYSIWYG!
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What Kinds of Hours are You Keeping?

A lot of entrepreneurs start their businesses with the intent of realizing their dreams of wealth, having something wonderful to offer, and having time to do the things that they have always wanted to do.  Some of this is true.  But to get this, what kinds of hours do you really have to work? And when?

There is so much talk about working smarter, not longer.  But this is not always clear. What does it really mean to work smarter anyway?  Michael Gerber in The E-Myth Revisited encourages all entrepreneurs to work on their businesses instead of in their businesses.  So, here is a recent example from a conversation I had with a business owner. The business owner was complaining of feeling overworked and burdened.  At first, I did not realize that this person was actually the business owner.  We talked about coaching and the benefits but the person kept returning to the theme of having no control over his schedule or his workload. 

I was just about to put my foot in my mouth by offering both sympathy and some suggestions that had worked for my clients when he stated quite bluntly that being a business owner is not what it is cracked up to be.  I managed to catch my jaw before it hit the floor and asked how he could change his situation since he was in charge. Typical coaching question, really. 

He had described hiring a part-time administrative assistant so delegating some of the work, developing a wait list, or referring to colleagues seemed logical  Not one of those ideas came to his mind.  In fact, I received a polite thank you and rejection regarding coaching and more moaning about the awful state of work and the economy. 

IT IS NOT ABOUT THE HOURS YOU WORK! 

It is how you spend those hours.  In the How To Be an E.G.G. program, one participant described with great wonder in her voice that scheduling telephone calls, strategic planning, filing, meeting with clients, and networking felt like freedom!  She had a plan.  Working on your business instead of in your business requires a plan.  Some entrepreneurs feel anxiety that if they set up a plan, they will become tied down and less creative.  Really, this is magical thinking.  No one can remove your creative talent. 

Imagine seeing your ideas from just a thought to implementation.  What would that feel like?

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